McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — More than 15,300 migrants have been released from federal custody without formal immigration court notices since an immigration influx began as President Joe Biden took office, a South Texas lawmaker on Tuesday told Border Report.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, told Border Report this latest data shows a dramatic increase in April of these fast-tracked releases, what he calls “an honor system,” which is up thousands from just 2,000 at the end of March.

“Basically it’s just an honor system. It’s just a honor system that they are given and this is not the way it’s supposed to be,” Cuellar said via phone from Washington, D.C.

A U.S. border Patrol agent processes and interviews hundreds of migrants under the Anzalduas Bridge in Mission, Texas, on March 28, 2021. (Photo Courtesy of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar’s Office.)

The expedited releases are due to U.S. Border Patrol agents and officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection overwhelmed due to the thousands who are crossing daily, most into South Texas from the northern Mexican border state of Tamaulipas.

Border Report has been with Border Patrol agents when hundreds of migrants emerge from the desolate brush, wet and muddy after crossing the Rio Grande and surrendering to border agents. Most are from Central American countries and say they are fleeing crime and economic hardships and weather disasters, and they believe the Biden administration will be more welcoming to them than the Trump administration.

In an effort to process, sort and separate them during this coronavirus pandemic and determine who will be moved to other facilities, federal officials are releasing thousands of migrants much quicker than normal and giving them what is known as a 385 form or booking report.

Unaccompanied migrant children are not fast-tracked. Instead, they are all taken into the care and custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. But the number of unaccompanied youth is unprecedented, especially those crossing into South Texas, and they are taking up much of the space in DHS facilities used to process the migrants. And this has triggered thousands of migrants to be fast-tracked in the field, border experts tell Border Report.

A group of unaccompanied migrants stand in a line on April 6, 2021, moments after being apprehended in La Joya, Texas, by U.S. Border Patrol agents. The children were sent to the care of HHS officials. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

HHS currently has at least 20,346 unaccompanied children in its care. As of Monday, 2,251 were in the custody of CBP. DHS officials said over 300 unaccompanied children are transferred from CBP to HHS daily, and hundreds more are discharged from HHS care to sponsors, relatives or others vetted to care for them in the United States.

On Friday, U.S. Border Patrol Chief Patrol Agent Brian Hastings, who heads the Rio Grande Valley Sector, said a Border Patrol agent found a 10-year-old migrant alone in the “same area” where a 10-year-old boy had been abandoned by cartel human traffickers earlier this month. A video posted on social media by Hastings shows the boy who was found under a tractor overnight.

CBP officials have confirmed to Border Report they have discretion while in the field to assess each and every apprehension individually and that operational policy allows them to sometimes deviate from normal processes depending upon the circumstances.

“In some cases, families are placed in removal proceedings further along in the release process rather than while they are at the border patrol station. All families, however, are screened at the border patrol station, including the collection of biographical and biometric information and criminal and national security records checks,” according to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security.

A Border Patrol agent passes out thermal blankets on April 6 to migrant children and adults who crossed the Rio Grande and were apprehended in La Joya, Texas. Most families will be paroled and allowed to stay in the United States during their immigration proceedings under current Biden administration policies. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Traditionally, migrants paroled by DHS are given a Notice to Appear or NTA document, which indicates when and where they are to appear before an immigration judge, and makes it clear they are to report to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office within 90 days.

Cuellar said the booking reports with which many migrants are now being released do specify that they are to report to their nearest ICE office within 60 days for further instructions. But he worries that many won’t understand that and will get lost in the system or will not properly appear before an immigration judge, which is required to have any legal chance at asylum.

“They’re not put into the immigration system where they’re supposed to go before a judge,” Cuellar said. “It will be interesting to see how many of those (issued) 385s are going to show up” for court.

They’re not put into the immigration system where they’re supposed to go before a judge.”

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has openly supported a bill in Congress that would require migrants “receive written notice of removal proceedings before being granted parole or released from detention and to enumerate the possible consequences for failing to attend such proceedings.” The bill, S.1007, is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee and was filed last month by U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, a Republican from Alabama.

Cruz last month was among several different groups of lawmakers, most Republicans, who have visited the South Texas border recently to see the influx of migrants, the lack of holding facilities and to speak with Border Patrol agents on enforcement methods.

Several Republican lawmakers are seen on April 9, 2021, taking a boat tour of the Rio Grande at Anzalduas Park in Mission, Texas, across from Reynosa, Mexico. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

“Our facilities at the border are bursting at the seams, and because we’ve simply run out of space, we’re releasing illegal migrants into our country with no real accountability, or date to appear in court,” Tuberville said in a statement.

“There is an absolute humanitarian, national security, and public health crisis unfolding at our border, worsened by the current administration’s irresponsible political decision to return to ‘catch and release,’ a policy that has allowed hundreds of illegal aliens to be released in communities across Texas — with no expectation for them to return for a court date. I am proud to join Senator Tuberville on this bill to ensure we defend the rule of law and hold those who break it accountable,” Cruz said in a statement.

On Monday, U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, who was part of a delegation that toured South Texas in late March, sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas requesting DHS provide more information on the lack of NTAs issued to migrants, as well as border security operational concerns, he said the group witnessed.

“Our recent trip to the border confirmed what we’ve known for months – the Biden administration’s irresponsible border policies are aiding and abetting narco-terrorists. Border crossings are at an all-time high, holding facilities are totally overrun, border agents are stretched thin, and members of our border communities feel completely abandoned by the federal government,” Arrington said. “Although this administration likes to pretend this crisis doesn’t exist, my colleagues and I are forcing them to give the American people answers on how they plan to solve this dangerous, humanitarian disaster they created.”

Among questions Arrington’s group sent to the Biden administration included:

  • How much federal funds are spent on feeding, housing, educating and caring for unaccompanied migrant youth every month?
  • What is the current detailed process for vetting sponsors for unaccompanied migrant youth?
  • Where are the the youth transported to if they don’t have sponsors, including all shelters in all states?
  • How many migrants have been released into the United States without a notice to appear (NTA)? What is the protocol for distributing NTAs and holding immigration hearings given current COVID-19 safety protocols?
  • What is the process for ensuring that sponsors bring a migrant youth who is in their care to their mandatory immigration hearing? Does the federal government followup?
  • Are all non-Americans apprehended at or in between ports of entry on the southern border being tested for COVID-19? If not, why? What are the current protocols for a migrant who tests positive for coronavirus?